TBS marketed them for decades as “America’s Team.” From coast to coast, the Atlanta Braves became a national sensation. Across the country, their vast legion of fans witnessed their meteoric rise from a perennial cellar dweller in the basement of their division to becoming one of the most dominant forces in the game of baseball. Much of the credit for the gradual change in fortune goes to coach Bobby Dews, who might have been the important man in the Braves organization for nearly four decades until his passing on Sunday at the age of 74.
When Dews arrived in Atlanta in 1974, the Braves did not have a true identity. Since moving from Milwaukee in 1966, the Braves made just a single playoff appearance despite of couple of near misses. Though the Braves spent heavily in free agency in the coming decades under Owner Ted Turner, Dews tasked himself with developing a nucleus from within and teaching the fundamentals of the game as a long-time coach in the minor league system. Dale Murphy, a symbol of both pride and frustration during the 1980s, was one of Dews’ first students. As a young prospect, Murphy looked to Dews as a mentor and smoothly transitioned into a Gold Glove center fielder and a prolific force at the plate. The Braves would gradually rebuild their pipeline under Bobby Cox and Dews became instrumental in instilling the values needed to prosper at the big league level.
Dews’ list of students spanned from Steve Avery to John Smoltz and others such as Chipper Jones became the face of the franchise and a byproduct of the minor league teachings. With a young core in place, former Kansas City Royals General Manager John Schuerholtz returned to the club’s roots in free agency to acquire Terry Pendleton and Charlie Leibrandt and began an unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles, culminating in the 1995 World Series championship. Dews spent three stints on the big league coaching staff and took over for Jimy Williams as third base coach in 1997 upon the team’s move into Turner Field. Young prospect Andruw Jones became a 50-home-run hitter under Dews’ watch and experienced a similar rise like Murphy two decades earlier. A new crop of youthful Braves led by Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur grew up Braves fans as kids in Georgia and were key cogs in the last division title with Dews on the coaching staff in 2005.
Dews retired as a coach after the 2006 season to return to his roots in the minor leagues as a roving instructor, continuing to teach the Braves Way. For 37 seasons, Dews personified the makeup of the Braves, from the humble beginnings in the minor leagues to seeing the fruits of his labor blossom on the big league coaching staff. While Cox, Turner, and Schuerholtz are names the most casual observer identifies with when studying the Braves of the past four decades, Dews was probably the most important one, providing the template for lasting success and a true identity in an adopted town. Without Dews, it is conceivable to think that the Braves do not dominate the National League in the 1990s nor amass their endless supply of quality homegrown talent. Dews’ memory resonates within the organization and his efforts will continue to hold influence as the Braves embark on a new chapter in Cobb County come 2017 and plant the seeds for their next run of excellence.